81. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the President1


1. Why is South Vietnam important to us?

First, it is a key element in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia in turn is an area whose size and importance are plain to see-almost 250 million people and a land and sea area stretching from China to Australia, and from the Philippines to India. Second, we have a commitment there in honor and in national interest. Ten years ago President Eisenhower rightly decided to support the new government of South Vietnam and we have continued that support ever since in good times and in bad. Indeed the language of that first commitment reminds me very much of the language we still use (Eisenhower letter to Diem attached at Tab A)2 It speaks of our assistance against subversion and aggression. It speaks of the need for effective performance and reform in Vietnam. It speaks of the need to respond to the aspirations of the people of Vietnam themselves.

In recent months the danger and difficulty in Vietnam have increased, but this is no time to quit, and it is no time for discouragement.

2. What are the prospects now?

I am working right this week end with Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara and General Taylor on this problem, and I can tell you that while there have been troubles and difficulties in recent months out there, we are going to keep right on with our basic present program and purpose. I am proud of the improvement in the coordination of the American effort both here and in Saigon, and we expect to take further measures to strengthen our support for the free people of South Vietnam.

I am particularly encouraged by reports from the Ambassador and from Secretary McNamara on the quality of the present leadership of South Vietnam. I have had an encouraging personal message from [Page 149] General Khanh, and we are very hopeful that his government will be able to take the strong and effective measures which are needed on every front out there.

I am sure the Vietnamese people will respond to this kind of leadership because it is quite foreign to the traditions of the area to give in to pressures which are directed from Peking. (Some deliberate connection of the Communists with China may be helpful in Saigon.)

3. Can this be ended by 1965?

1965 has never been anything more for us than a target for the completion of certain specific forms of technical training and assistance. A struggle of this kind needs patience and determination. We and our friends in Vietnam entirely agree that as time goes on the responsibility for effective work in all fields should be carried more and more by the Vietnamese themselves. No one who is working effectively against Communism need be worried about American determination and persistence. We mean to keep at it out there.

McG. B.3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, McGeorge Bundy, Memos to the President, Vol. II. No classification marking. Although there is no indication on the source text, this memorandum was presumably prepared in anticipation of the interview with the President by broadcast media representatives on March 15. See footnote 6, Document 79.
  2. Letter dated October 25, 1954; Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. XIII, Part 2, pp. 2166–2167.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.